ICTU is likely to accept new national agreement


ACCEPTANCE of Partnership 2000 seems likely at tomorrow's special delegate conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU).

The result will depend on SIPTU, which has 70 of the 350 votes at the conference. SIPTU members have been balloting in recent weeks to decide how its votes will be cast at the conference. The union leadership has recommended acceptance, but the signs last night were that SIPTU membership is evenly divided on the issue.

The result of SIPTU's ballot will be known this morning. With 102,000 votes counted last night, the majority for acceptance of the deal is understood to be just over 2,000. A further 36,000 votes will be counted this morning.

The State's second-largest union, IMPACT, announced the result of its ballot last night. Members voted by two to one to accept the new national agreement. Members of the Public Service Executive Union voted by four to for Partnership 2000. These unions have 31 votes between them.

However, the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland has rejected Partnership 2000. It has 15 votes. The much smaller Marine Port and General Workers' Union also rejected the deal. It has three votes.

Although results are due from other major unions today Mandate, the Irish Nurses Organisation, the Civil Public Service Union and the Communications Workers Union - it is clear SIPTU's 70 delegate votes will decide the outcome of the special delegate conference.

There seems little discernible pattern to the SIPTU vote. The one block of workers who seem to have voted strongly in favour - by around four to one - are low-paid private sector workers in the Dublin area. Although they are doing less well than higher-income groups out of last week's Budget, they may feel vulnerable in a "free for all" where they would lack the industrial muscle to win significant pay increases.

In the public sector, Aer Lingus members of SIPTU are understood to have voted by two to one against Partnership 2000, reflecting local industrial relations difficulties. Among SIPTU's members, in CIE, there appears to be a slight majority for acceptance. Partnership 2000 wad endorsed by two to one in the FAS branch.

Among white-collar SIPTU workers in Dublin, the vote was evenly split. There was a narrow majority for rejection of the agreement in the education branch, some of whose committee members campaigned strongly for a No vote.

The estimated 137,000 votes cast is a record in a national ballot by SIPTU. Only 98,000 members voted on the Programme for Competitiveness and Work.

It is unlikely that the present 2,000 margin in favour of a new agreement will be reversed. Given that two-thirds of the votes are counted, the remaining branches would have to show a doubling in the ratio of No votes to alter the outcome.

It is unclear what would happen if the national agreement is rejected at tomorrow's ICTU conference. In theory, Partnership 2000 could be renegotiated, but no obvious issues have emerged as the main reasons for the disaffection of so many trade unionists. It is among public service workers, who have benefited most from the PCW, that disaffection seems greatest.

This would make if difficult for ICTU negotiators to identify concessions that would make trade unionists accept a Partnership 2000 Mark II. A more likely scenario would be that the public service unions would negotiate a new general pay round and all would emerge in the private sector.

Where this would leave the non-pay aspects of Partnership 2000, - such as further tax reforms and measures to combat social exclusion, remained unclear last night. Senior Government sources said that the consequences of a No vote had not been discussed.

While the Government would try to honour commitments to the "social pillar" in the Partnership 2000 talks, the sources said any union demands to improve the tax and pay terms on offer would put pressure on resources it had been hoped would be used to combat unemployment and for anti-poverty measures.